Saturday, 28 November 2015

Guffaws For Bosko

Warner Bros. had shown little interest in cartoons in the silent era, but once sound came in, it was a different story. Leon Schlesinger of Pacific Art and Title, an old friend of the Warners, worked out a deal in 1930 for a series of cartoons with two guys who had been bounced while making animated Oswald shorts for Universal. Warners owned a pile of music publishing companies and used the cartoons to sell sheet music for its songs, as it was still an era when many homes had a piano in the living room for home-made entertainment.

The deal made everyone a winner. Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising made money by having a major studio release their cartoons—and they owned their character, unlike Oswald. Leon made money so long as Harman and Ising stayed on budget. Warners made money through animated song plugs. Theatre owners made money as patrons laughed at the bouncy antics on screen.

Warners quickly began promoting their latest product. One and two-page ads were taken out in the trades. Newspaper stories were planted about Bosko and Honey (who the studio referred to as “Bosco” and “Sweetie Honey” in some quarters). Here’s a Variety story from June 25, 1930. It contains a few lines of animation history, a cursory checklist of the making of a cartoon, and then tells us about the studio’s cartoon releases. There’s no real news. Not surprising, as this appeared in an issue paying tribute to the Warner brothers on their 25th anniversary.
The family of animated cartoon characters has been increased. Bosco and his Sweetie Honey have just been introduced to the picturegoing public by the Vitaphone Corporation in the first of a series of Vitaphone song cartoons called “Looney Tunes.”
It is a notable family that Bosco joins—a family originated, according to the statements of several individuals who claim to be authorities on the subject, by J. E. Bray’s “Colonel Heeza Liar” in 1911. Other members of this entertaining family of animated screen characters are Winsor McKay’s Gertie, the dinosaur; Wilt Disney’s [sic] Mickey Mouse, the animals in Paul Terry’s series of Aesop’s Fables, Earl Hurd’s famous pup, Little Nemo, Mutt and Jeff, and others.
Paul Terry is credited with having originated the first all animal animated cartoons in Aesop’s Fables. Mutt and Jeff was the first of these cartoons to be played up over a feature in a Broadway theatre. This was in 1919, and the particular number was “Sound Your A.”
The making of an animated cartoon was an arduous business in the early days of this phase of motion picture production. The artist laboriously drew from 10,000 to 17,000 separate drawings of his characters, showing each new movement of a hand, a leg or an eye, and the successive drawings were photographed by a camera placed directly over them. It was not long until the artists originated the characters and the situations and hired young illustrators to draw the characters in the other 10,000 or so positions.
How It’s Done
A later development was the use of celluloid which saved much time and labor. The main drawing of a character is used over and over, a new drawing being made only of that part of the figure which is to move. If the character is to be shown walking, a drawing of the leg in an advanced position is drawn and placed over the leg in the original illustration.
Gradually the number of drawings necessary for a one-real animated cartoon was reduced to 6,000 or 7,000. With the addition of sound and speech to animated cartoons the number of drawings required per reel has again increased by two or 3,000.
The first of the “Looney Tunes” Vitaphone song cartoons is “Sinkin’ in the Bathtub,” a take-off on Winnie Lightner’s song hit in Warner Bros, musical revue, “Show of Shows.” Music of the song is heard at intervals throughout the picture and now and then the characters are heard singing it. Bosco and his Honey, the queer and attractive little characters introduced in “Sinkin’ in the Bathtub,” will appear in each of the series, all of which are to be based upon Vitaphone song hits from Warner Bros. and First National feature pictures.
The second number will be entitled “Congo Jazz,” a burlesque on a First National Vitaphone picture song hit.
Loon Schlesinger is supervising the series of “Looney Tunes” for Vitaphone. The cartoons are by Hugh Herman and Rudolph Ising, with musical score by Frank Marsales and animation by Isadore Freleng.
The Los Angeles Times came out with a similar story, minus the truncated history lesson, in its edition of December 7, 1930. While it refers to Schlesinger, there are no quotes, leaving me to believe it’s the handiwork of the Warners’ PR department.
Bosco's Animated Nightmares in Celluloid, Where Plausible Plots Shorn of All Sanity, Prove Unwavering

Bosco, a funny little fellow who is mostly eyes and mouth, is one character in Hollywood who is weathering the “depression period” nicely. Bosco plays in “Looney Tunes,” the animated and synchronized film cartoon short subject which is bringing smiles to the face of the perennial grouch and hearty guffaws from the jaded theater patron.
Bosco is the humorous, musical brain child of Hugh Harmon [sic] and Rudolf Ising, youthful artists, who are capitalizing on his foolish antics through the medium of Leon Schlesinger’s “Looney Tunes” company. Bosco and Honey, his feminine companion, are faced with only one limitation. They must not do rational things.
“Looney Tunes” as created Harmon and Ising have been in existence eleven months. About four to six weeks are required to animate, photograph and synchronize the cartoon subjects, each being approximately 650 feet in length. Each frame of the film necessitates a separately drawn picture, in fact, two, for each scene is drawn twice, once on ordinary paper and once on transparent. There are sixteen frames to a foot of film, so at least 10,000 pictures are for each reel. Twelve artists do this work.
When the animaters and inkers have finished with Bosco and his comical associates the pictures are taken to an overhead film camera and photographed, one by one. The camera is so adjusted that one frame can be “shot” at a time. It is possible to save time and expense when, say, the head of a character moves but the body doesn't, to use the same drawing of the body and different positions of the head. This can be accomplished by laying the celluloid showing the body on the background and placing the celluloid showing the head on top of the two, keeping the relative proportions, of course. The camera then “shoots” through the celluloid, picking up the complete image, background and all. After the film is completed the synchronization is worked out, although this has been done before the picture is finished without undue difficulty, as the musician works hand in hand with the men who figure out the story, the “gags” and the plot characters.
These story conferences for “Looney Tunes” are a treat for the uninitiated. A plausible plot is conceived, then shorn of sense and reason and made into a sort of nightmare. Trees do spring dances, animals become human, fish are given intelligent expressions, and so on. The most difficult part of the whole business is to present a logical story in a ridiculous manner, at the same time making it entertaining.
The present production at the Schlesinger plant will be stepped up soon to one reel every two weeks. When this happens the artists will be forced to draw, trace and synchronize 600 individual pictures every day. However, practice enables them to sketch the characters in a dozen brief strokes.
“Looney Tunes” are released through Warner Brothers’ world-wide, and are occasioning considerable comment from all over the globe. Schlesinger is Bosco’s patron saint and has no worries about his little charge’s ability to please all types and classes of theatergoers. Of course the children are entirely sold on the cartoons. Schlesinger finds that no complaints of any nature are coming from the grown-ups. What's more, he doesn’t expect any.
The stretchable round balls and tubes that made up the characters in the Bosko cartoons were fine for a while, but the artists at Warners couldn’t get past a few stock ideas. All the characters had the same open-mouth-with-tongue grin. Bosko did the same slide-step dance. Over and over, plots involved singing, a bad guy capturing the girl character (with the same scream) and then the singers ganging up on the baddie for the victory. Meanwhile, a chap named Walt Disney was concentrating more on well-defined stories, in addition to improving his cartoons’ artwork. Every other studio tried to catch up to him. Finally, some of Schlesinger’s hires said “Let’s make funny cartoons instead.” They eventually discovered how. Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny came along. Nobody was talking about Bosko any more.

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